Kyle Steinberg pissed off Ms. Sullivan for the last time. He and Lyle Goldstein picked the wrong passage to make fun of. Kyle never cared for English, a common interest he shared with his best friend, and Ms. Sullivan had had enough of their unruly attitude in her class; these football players would pay. Often Ms. Sullivan brought their clowning to the coach and the principal’s attention, but they did nothing about their attitude – no doubt since they didn’t care much for English themselves. Ms. Sullivan had to take their punishment into her own hands; she was going to make them cry for their mothers.
And so, on that Friday afternoon, Lyle was sent to wipe down each chalkboard and desk in every classroom, as well as take out the trash, while Kyle had to scrub and mop all the hallways, including the bathrooms; the maintenance crew got a well-deserved day off. Ms. Sullivan was ready to see Kyle and Lyle break down before her, but she was puzzled when she found Kyle smiling at the end of the day. She was certain he would fall apart! However, Ms. Sullivan had not counted on Kyle coming across an unexpected turn of events in the art room.
* * *
After hours of scrubbing and mopping, Kyle finally reached the third floor, the top floor of Caprio High School, and sighed tiredly after looking down at what he thought was the longest hallway in the world. He then breathed in the scent of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies. He thought the scent would be coming from the home-ec room and was surprised when he followed his nose into the art room, where a plate of cookies had been placed in front of a fan that blew the scent right into his sweaty face.
He wondered why there were cookies in the art room and why they had been placed in front of a fan, but then Kyle lost his train of thought when he saw Cassie Dubois sitting on a stool, painting. He took a quick jump out of the room and compiled his thoughts. He contemplated if the cookies were worth Cassie’s cold stare; if they were worth her condescending tone; her scary raised eyebrow; her tightened lips – they were full lips, but too tight. He never had a conversation with her, but in the months that she had been at Caprio, and in his little town of Geneva, he had heard horrible stories about her; he even experienced some of her coldness in numerous classes.
The chocolaty dance convinced him to go for it. He stepped back into the art room and found the chubby Puerto Rican standing next to him. He jumped at her sight; the raised eyebrow, the tight lips, the dreaded cold stare. “Hi,” he said, “how are you?”
“What do you want?”
“I’m great too, thanks. I–”
She cut him off when she sternly said, “What do you want?”
“Cookies,” he retorted and swallowed the knot in his throat.
He watched her. She stared at him, coldly. He wondered if there was a possibility she could find him “cute” or “charming,” as others found him. He thought, because she was Puerto Rican, she probably didn’t understand American behavior. After all, she had been in Oregon for only a couple of months. However, she didn’t have an accent when she spoke – she sounded like a pure American to Kyle – and she was even the best student in Ms. Sullivan’s class, therefore, she knew English better than any sophomore – perhaps better than any senior – why not understand Kyle’s “cute” ways?
She sighed and nudged her head at the cookies. He smiled cautiously and waited for her to turn around, but she continued to stare at him and managed to raise her eyebrow even higher, which Kyle thought was impossible! He decided to be the one to turn around first, then walked to the cookies, and placed one in his watering mouth.
He moaned at the taste of the chewy, chocolaty cookie. He shook his head with amazement. He adored this cookie. He looked at Cassie, who was still staring at him, but her eyebrow had gone down dramatically. He asked her who made them. She crossed her arms and replied, “I did.”
She must’ve made them during home-ec, Kyle thought, but the fan was puzzling. He asked why the fan was directly on them. She shrugged her shoulders and said, “I didn’t notice.”
He looked at the fan and wondered if she had done it with the intention of luring him in. He wondered if she was the type of girl who would be interested in luring guys to their destruction. From afar, she seemed like a sweet girl, with her white cotton dresses and braided dark hair, but up close, Cassie was the scariest girl Kyle had ever seen. Was it possible she could be some sort of man-eater?
He looked back at the chubby, average-height girl; she was scaring him with her cold eyebrow-less glare. It amazed him how her tightened lips managed to make her face look so cold. He decided he wouldn’t let her terrifying chills stop him from being his cute self. He thought of the most adorable thing he could say and said, “These taste like my mom’s cookies. You put a lot of love into them too?”
She raised her eyebrow and replied, “What?”
He chuckled nervously and told himself to not be afraid of her. She was only a girl, for Pete’s sake! He shouldn’t have to change himself for some girl who scared him – and everyone else. He had to be himself if he was going to make her like him. Everyone liked him, except Ms. Sullivan, but he could live with that, since he didn’t like her either. And then there was Stephen Emerson; how he loathed Stephen Emerson and Stephen loathed him; it was a beautiful loathing. But Cassie was different; she was the new girl, and the new girl had to like the future star quarterback of the Caprio Scorpions.
He explained in his cute way, “My mom gave me the recipe once: a couple cups of flour, a bag of chocolate chips, a little sugar, and a whole lotta love.” He grinned and thought if this didn’t make her laugh, nothing will.
But Cassie simply rolled her eyes and replied, “No. I put a lot of sugar,” and after a moment she added, “and a little love.”
Kyle chuckled. She could joke. He liked that. He said, “So love and sugar taste the same?”
She exhaled through her nose and looked out the window.
“Okay,” he said. Back to square one, he thought.
He grabbed another cookie and as he chewed it, he glanced at the painting; it was a bust portrait of a nude young woman with long black hair, green cat-like eyes, a raised eyebrow, tight full lips, holding a glass against her heart. Cassie noticed he was staring at the painting. She walked over to it and stood before it, then said, “Anything else?”
He nodded. “That your painting?”
“Duh.” She crossed her arms.
“No need to be rude.”
She rolled her eyes and raised her eyebrow; this sent chills up Kyle’s spine!
“Whoa,” he exhaled, “you sure know how to make a person feel uncomfortable.”
“If only I knew how to make a person leave.”
Kyle tilted his head, wondering why she was the way she was. He said, “You know, it’s very rude to kick someone out. Don’t they teach you manners in Puerto Rico?”
“Yes, we’re just not pussies like some people.”
“You mean Jews?”
“I mean Americans.”
“Aren’t you American, though? Isn’t Puerto Rico, like, the fiftieth state or something?”
She raised both her eyebrows with surprise and slowly replied, “It’s a commonwealth.”
“Right. I’m thinking Hawaii, for some reason.” He chuckled embarrassingly, then asked, “How come your last name is French?”
She shrugged her shoulder.
“Are you, like, half Puerto Rican, half white?”
She shook her head with her lips tightened; she looked aggravated.
Kyle still felt uncomfortable, but it didn’t stop him from talking, “Well, I’m German, but I don’t circle the ‘White’ option on stuff. I just put down ‘Jewish’ in the ‘Other’ section, you know? Gotta represent the Jews.”
She did or said nothing.
“Do you put ‘Latina’ or ‘White’? I mean, you look white and you even sound white, so…are you white?”
She began to tilt her head forward, keeping her cat-like eyes focused on him as her head dipped. This scared Kyle a lot, so out of fear, he continued to talk in fast speed, “Yeah, not a lot of us Jews around here. They’re all in Laetitia, and they’re too good for Caprio, so they attend the private school in Lancashire, which I think is stupid since it’s, like, an hour away.”
Finally she spoke, “You can leave now.”
He shivered. She knew how to scare him, and this scared him even more! But he was persistent. He decided to pester her a bit more. What’s the worst that could happen, he thought, she would punch him? She wasn’t going to eat him. She wasn’t a vampire. Right? And if she was, it would explain why she was so cold, and why the fan was placed directly on the cookies; she definitely did it on purpose, he thought. She definitely knew he was coming down the hallway and she definitely wanted a bite at him, after all, Kyle considered himself to be the most good-looking guy at Caprio.
He had a plan: if she was like other girls, she would love an opportunity to talk about herself, and since her race was not the right topic for her perhaps her painting was. He said, “Let me look at your painting.” He stepped closer and she charged at him, pushing him back. He was not expecting her to push him like that; even if he actually did believe she was a vampire. She was a chubby girl, but not too large, so her strength surprised him. He considered her for the football team.
“You’ve overstayed your welcome, now leave,” she commanded.
“You don’t own the art room, you know?”
Kyle scoffed and studied her look: her fists were clenched, her lips were tight, and her body was ready to defend again. Somehow, she didn’t scare him anymore. Her push was exactly what Kyle needed to rid his fear, after all, he was a football player; he was used to the aggressive physical contact.
Unfortunately for Cassie, Kyle was great at pushing people’s buttons and figuring people out, and he was definitely interested in figuring Cassie out. He took a couple steps back and admired the painting from where the plate of cookies were. She faced her painting and tried to block it with her body. Kyle chuckled and said, “You may be big, but you’re not that tall.” He then caught himself.
He knew very well never to mention a woman’s weight; he learned this when he had told his mother one time that she looked fat. She had locked herself in her room for two days and refused to eat anything. For those two days, he and his father had eaten frozen food for dinner, and he considered them to be the worst two days of his life. He wondered what Cassie would do to make this the worst experience of his life; maybe she’d turn into the man-eating-vampire and chew his head off.
It surprised him when she didn’t say anything; she just continued to block the painting. He seized this opportunity to apologize. “I take that back,” he said, “you’re not that big.” He grunted and corrected himself, “No, you’re not big at all.”
“Oh, shut up,” she yelled. “I know I’m fat. Now leave.”
“Well, you’re not fat. You’re…chubby.”
“That’s just an ignorant way of saying I’m fat.”
“You’re curvy.” He smiled.
She sighed annoyingly and turned to face him. “Will you please leave?”
“No, I wanna look at your painting. You look beautiful in it, as you do in person, of course.”
“That’s not me,” she retorted.
“Pfft. Come on. It’s all in the face: the eyebrow, the lips. That’s you, all right.” Cassie was angry, but Kyle ignored her and continued to study the painting out loud, “You’ve captured yourself quite well: the symmetry, your hair and eye color…your coldness.” He looked at the glass over her heart. “I like the placement of the glass…how it’s over the heart. It suggests she’s fragile, and yet, she has such a tough demeanor.”
Cassie looked at him; she was thrown off by his amazing vocabulary. Kyle smiled at her and said, “I like art.”
“Then, why do you give Ms. Sullivan so much shit in class?”
“Oh, I hate words.”
“No, you don’t. You just described my painting with amazing word structure.”
“See, I understand words when I say them, not when I read them. Like that quote in Sullivan’s class; it was way too confusing.”
“‘Many hands make light work’; it makes total sense.”
“Well, it may make sense to you, but not to me, because many hands make lights work, okay?” She rolled her eyes and scoffed. He continued, “See, that’s why I prefer paintings: I can say whatever I want about them and I can’t be wrong. I guess I’m a visual person.” She didn’t seem amused, but her lips were somewhat loose, so he asked, “Do you prefer paintings too?”
She shrugged and said, “I prefer words.”
He chuckled lightly and stated, “I’m not leaving until you tell me why.”
She rolled her eyes and sighed tiredly. Then, she looked at the painting and said, “I manage to find myself in words. I rarely find myself in a painting, unless I’ve painted it myself, of course. But with words…” She looked at him cautiously. He rested against the table, where the cookies lay, and listened with a soft smile. She continued, “Well, like poetry, for example, I find my thoughts in so many poems. I often wonder how these poets could’ve written my thoughts so perfectly decades and centuries before I was even born.” She then sighed sadly and added, “Since they’ve already written everything, I find it difficult to come up with original thoughts, or at least finding ways to make old thoughts sound fresh and new.”
“Is that why you paint?”
She looked at the painting and shrugged, then replied, “Yeah, I guess.” She looked at him again and added, “But I feel paintings can’t be as universal as words.” Then she looked at the painting again.
Staring at her profile, Kyle said, “That’s why I like them…I like to find the artist in the painting…or at least the words she’s trying to say.”
Their eyes met and Kyle smiled. She cleared her throat and scoffed, then said, “Well, if a dumb jock can interpret my painting so quickly, I guess I’ve done a poor job.”
“Ouch.” He chuckled. “Just ‘cause I’m a jock don’t mean I’m dumb, derr.”
He laughed and she merely looked at him with a soft smile, an almost non-existing smile; no more tight lips. He liked Cassie, but as soon as he thought that, it was as if she’d heard him because her lips tightened again. She too wasn’t prepared to change herself for someone so easily. He liked this challenge.
Then, there was a knock on the door. They both looked to find Stephen Emerson, the lanky enemy of Kyle. “What the hell are you doing here?” Stephen said to Kyle in a surprised way.
Kyle glanced over at Cassie, then back at Stephen. No, it couldn’t be, he thought. They couldn’t be together, could they? He looked back at Cassie and said, “Are you guys…together?”
She looked confused and glanced at Stephen, then shifted her stare on Kyle. “He’s here for cookies,” she said.
“Oh,” Kyle replied happily, then grinned at Stephen.
“Looking for a tutor?” Stephen said to Kyle in a condescending tone.
Kyle scoffed and replied, “I think it’s you who needs a tutor, Lamerson.”
“For what?” Stephen asked cockily.
“That’s not important.”
“Whatever. You’re not on my level.”
“The snobby level?”
“The genius level.”
“You ain’t no genius. You’re into English; where’s the genius in that? Learn a Science; then we’ll talk.”
Stephen scoffed and said, “You’re one to talk.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“You know jack-shit about Sciences.”
Cassie sighed loudly then yelled, “SHUT UP.” They stopped and turned to Cassie, who did not seem amused by their immature dispute, but managed to keep her stare fixed on Kyle, which he liked, a lot. She crossed her arms and added, “Now, Kyle, I think you’ve had enough ‘love’ for one day. It’s Stephen’s turn.”
Kyle smiled at her reference, though he did not like that Stephen now got to be in her presence. Stephen was confused and he didn’t appreciate that she used the word ‘love’ when it came to sharing ‘it’ with Kyle.
Kyle said to Cassie, “Well, thanks for the cookies. I’ll see you on Monday, Cassie.”
She nodded and said, “Bye.”
He reminded her, “Kyle.”
She shrugged her shoulder and said, “Whatever.” Her lips were loose; she liked him too.
He faced the door and smirked at Stephen, who then closed the door behind Kyle after he walked out of it. Kyle stood for a moment and smiled to himself; he was looking forward to getting to know Cassie Dubois a bit more.
Lyle showed up with a bucket of dirty water, ruffled, greasy hair, and a sweaty face. After putting the bucket down, he said, “I hate cleaning. Where’s my mom when I need her?”
Kyle asked, “What do you need your mom for?”
“She cleans for me.”
“Well, that’s not fair.”
“I’m her baby.”
“No fair! My mom makes me clean my room.”
“That’s weird,” Lyle said and sat in front of the lockers. He added, “I’m so done with this.”
Kyle chuckled lightly and gave him his hand. “Come on. We’ll help each other finish. Many hands make light work.” He gasped loudly. “Oh, my god, I get it now.”
“Great,” Lyle said sarcastically. “Just what we need: another Stephen Emerson.”
“Nah, I’ll always be a jock.”
“Jocks for life.”
They pumped their fists.